Archive for June, 2004

Jasleen discusses the Leyli and Majnun dilemma

June 28, 2004


Today I was visited by Jasleen Dhamija, the noted Indian textiles expert who wrote for us in The Rugs of War. We were discussing the ambiguities at the core of an image such as this.

While we accept Hossein Valamanesh’ translation:

The image on the right is of Leyli who is sitting on a pedestal / seat and the one on the left is Majnun. I think he has been depicted in this carpet as an emaciated man not unlike emaciated Buddha images (I have seen this image in a number of paintings; here’s a sculptural example) and I think the weavers have thrown in a couple of tanks and guns for good measure perhaps to raise the possibility of a sale. It is a fascinating carpet.

Jasleen declared:

but that does not look like the many Majnun figures I have seen! Surely he is both a folk hero and a military figure, loaded with guns and grenades, looking threateningly at the figure of Leyli seated on a throne!

I cannot help but agree, and refer to growing evidence of the integration of folk tales and religious symbols with symbols of the militarised present, one narrative ambiguously masking the other. And as one online account describes the story: “And so the two young lovers were forbidden to see each other anymore. This affected Gais so deeply that he went insane. People started calling him “Majnun” (madman).”

And so is it possible that this militaristic representation of the figure of Gais may also be a reference to him as a “majnun”, in relation to the current circumstances, and the experience of the destruction of references to a Buddhist heritage?

My previous questions about these images remain.

aWar-Rugs-030 copy.jpg

Please note that later posts on the topic can be found here; click on titles for the full posts.

Classic defeat of the Soviets image

June 27, 2004

Graham Gower sends this classic image, distinctive for the amount of text in English, and the poppy motif (at least that’s my interpretation).

This may be compared with plate # 2 in The Rugs of War catalogue. That rug may be a later generation – it shows some scrambled text and the same poppy (or vase of flowers) motif, but the poppy/flower border is clearer. This is only the second I’ve seen.

Refer also to the “scrambled” appearance of the rug in this earlier post.


Graham comments:

A very good example of a type of rug attributable to the refugee camps in Pakistan. Although commonly termed a ‘Mujahideen’ rugs they are also known as ‘Propaganda’ rugs. Strictly speaking they are more akin to mats and use a coarser type of wool and a cotton warp.

This particular rug carries a little more decorative and textual detail than others of this type. The money raised from these pieces was used to help supply arms for the Mujahideen fighters. At the bottom of the rug the weaver has shown in some detail examples of Russian weaponry, for example the DShKM (Dashika) heavy machine gun. Evidently the weaver was familiar with the types of weapons in use, and is direct in the propaganda message. This included some disjointed English, but the message is there. For example ‘USSR WANTED AFGHANISTAN PEOPLE’, ‘USSR ARMY DURING THE GET OUT FROM AFGHANISTAN’ and ‘MUJAHIDEEN LONG LIFE’.

To be seen in the busy design is the outline of Afghanistan, the tree of life and a national flag. Many rugs of this type are often found poor in design and in quality. Size 3ft x 2ft.



A subtle use of war iconography

June 25, 2004


Graham describes this rug in the following terms:

A quality Zekani Dozar rug carrying a traditional design, which can be seen with variations on other similar rugs. This one however has the addition of a helicopter placed in the design as part of the repeating pattern.  A subtle use of war iconography. A well woven rug of the late 1990s. Size 6ft 10 inches x 3ft 3 inches.


This is not a digital effect!!!

June 23, 2004

Graham Gower sends this strangely scrambled image. We know these images “morph” through their various copies of copies, but this one’s (what’s the word?) been “hyped”?  Graham says:

A ‘mujahideen’ rug with the usual propaganda messages woven into the imagery. However, this rug appears to have been purposely left with a ‘thickish’ pile giving a somewhat murky appearance to the overall design. Size 3ft x 2ft.


J. Barry O’Connell Jr.

June 22, 2004

Again, Josephine reminds me of Barry’s very informative site, full of links and cross references. Welcome Barry!

George O’Bannon

June 22, 2004

Josephine sends a reference to an 1997 New York exhibition review by George O’Bannon: The Weavings of War.

In this exhibition war rugs from Afghanistan/Pakistan were exhibited in the context of weavings reflecting the experience of war from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Israel/Egypt, and the Caucasus.

Hwaa Irfan

June 22, 2004

Josephine Jasperse refers us to Hwaa Irfan’s interesting online essay: “Weaving between Wars and Returning to the Soul”.

Hans Werner Mohm

June 22, 2004

The reference to a film by Hans Werner Mohm on the War Rugs of Afghanistan in the Rotterdam Film Festival is not correct – due to my mis-reading of the Film Festival publicity.

Josephine tells me he made an exhibition, as well as another at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Apologies for raising expectations!

Frembgen and Mohm: funnel-shaped object

June 22, 2004

Thanks to Gilbert Riedelbauch who sends in a translation of the text accompanying plate 18 in Frembgen and Mohm: this relates most closely to this image from Graham Gower:

Structure of elements and motifs:This exceptional piece in regards to its colour, composition and detail, seems to be conceived by a designer. In the upper part of this carpet, its vertical format is visually closed through a ‘multi-bend’ bow. In the lower part of the image is an difficult to identify funnel shaped object.

In its blue background are several scripts (eg one can read: safed koh – Afghanistan and siah koh – Afghanistan – >Whiteblack mountains – Afghanistan< ) and the image of an armoured vehicle [light tank]. In regards to the scripts it has to be noted that Safed Koh is the name of a mountain range in the Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan, which is a region of strategic significance for the militant resistance [movement]. From there the Mujahideen conduced many operations into the plain of Dschalalabad (?Jahalabad). Siah Koh on the other hand has to be seen as just a fictional pendant.

On the left and right grows from almost symmetrically formed funnel shaped object a live-tree[?] carrying fruits (Granatapfel) and leaves in many different shapes. In the centre of the image is a tschar mil, a multi-rocket launcher with relevant armatures, it appears to be in combat position, a mounted securely on a funnel shaped rock.

On each side heavy weaponry (anti-tank weapon and machine guns are) dug into the ground. The remaining voids are filled with hand-grenades, bombs, rockets (muschak), scripts etc. On some of the hand-grenades the charge and the ribbed steel-coating is depicted.

In the circumscribing picture border shows [military] vehicles with driven by chains and wheels [tanks and trucks] (with by-lines, some in Cyrillic lettering) some carrying weapons. Even the smallest element has been executed with a remarkable attention to detail. Meaning: Two life-trees flank the depiction of real war objects. Compare: Böhning 1993:Nr. 51.

Origin: West Afghanistan, possibly knotted in Herat.

Dimensions: 133 x 83 cm

The “funnel shaped object” is the mystery “peaked mehrab” I’ve asked about in several posts below, including here and here. Surely this is cartographic depiction of some particular territory? Here’s a detail of the Gower version, turned upside down for comparison…



June 22, 2004

Another contribution from Josephine Jasperse – this is an up and down (bilateral) version of the image in Graham Gower’s “Which Way is Up?” post below, and plate 18 in Frembgen and Mohm. With many additional elements…


Here the mystery “funnel-shaped object” appears more topographical, like a pictorial representation of a mountain range. Your interpretation, and its origins, please Josephine.